/

Giants victorious in season opener

by Jason Coskrey

YOKOHAMA — It was a start worthy of the Mighty Kyojin.

News photoGiants left-hander Tetsuya Utsumi tosses a pitch during a Central League Opening Day game against the
BayStars at Yokohama Stadium on Friday. Yomiuri won 3-2.
KYODO PHOTO

With Yomiuri legend Shigeo Nagashima looking on, right fielder Yoshinobu Takahashi sent the first pitch of the season into the seats as the Giants slugged their way to a 3-2 win Friday over the Yokohama BayStars.

All three Yomiuri runs came off home runs. Takahashi, first baseman Lee Seung Yeop and second baseman Luis Gonzalez all slugged round-trippers for the Giants in their Central League Opener.

“I thought I’d swing at the first pitch if it was a strike,” Takahashi said later.

Solid offensively, the Giants’ main concern as they try to snap a four-year drought without a title was their pitching rotation. Starter Tetsuya Utsumi had a solid outing, giving up two runs on six hits and striking out six in eight innings of work. Closer Kiyoshi Toyoda retired the side in the ninth, striking out two, to pick up the save.

Last season’s Pacific League MVP, Michihiro Ogasawara, acquired from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, was hitless in four at-bats in his Giants debut.

Yomiuri had a chance to take a more commanding lead early in the game. Yoshitomo Tani followed Takahashi’s blast with a warning-track double that nearly left the field in the same spot. He advanced to third on a Ogasawara groundout to give Yomiuri a runner in scoring position with one out. An outstanding catch at first by Yuki Yoshimura saved a run as Shinnosuke Abe sent a line drive to first. BayStars starter Daisuke Miura then retired Gonzalez to end the inning.

Yokohama capitalized on Yomiuri’s inability to score in the bottom half of the inning. With center fielder Tatsuhiko Kinjo on second, Takanori Suzuki lined a shot up the middle to tie it at 1-1. The former Japan Series MVP finished the night 2-for-4 with an RBI.

Yoshimura broke the tie in the third inning on a two-out double. With one out on the board Kinjo drew a walk from Utsumi, one of only two given up, to give the BayStars a baserunner. A two-out single by Suzuki gave the BayStars runners on the corners. Finding the same hole up the middle that Suzuki did earlier, Yoshimura gave the BayStars a 2-1 lead.

The Giants responded quickly with Lee’s towering leadoff home run to center. Gonzalez countered by sending a ball into the throng of Giants supporters in the left-field seats soon thereafter. The back-to-back home runs gave the Giants a 3-2 advantage.

There was a scary moment for Gonzalez and the Giants in the fifth inning. With runner on first and second, Gonzalez took a fastball right into his left hand. Falling to the ground in pain, the former Colorado Rockies player was led to the dugout. After getting his hand heavily bandaged, Gonzalez returned to take his place at first. The play loaded the bases for the Giants, who again could not capitalize with runners in scoring position. Gonzalez was 1-for-3 with a homer in his debut with Yomiuri.

Yokohama had its last real scoring chance in the eighth inning. With two outs Yoshimura almost saved the day, with a towering shot to dead center that came inches away from tying the game once again.

Former Yomiuri player Toshihisa Nishi was among the players making their first appearance with new clubs. Acquired from the Giants for first baseman Masakuni Odajima, Yokohama is hoping the 35-year-old can add some pop to a lineup that struggled offensively a year ago. He managed a single off his former team, finishing 1-for-3 with a walk.

Dragons rally for win

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Veteran starter Kenshin Kawakami (1-0) allowed three runs in eight innings of work and the Chunichi Dragons’ bats came alive in a 13-hit attack to come from behind, defeating the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 7-3 on Friday night.

Carp 4, Tigers 1

At Kyocera Dome, Hiroki Kuroda (1-0) limited the damage to one run and four hits over seven sharp innings and Hiroshima catcher Yoshikazu Kura went 3-for-4 with an RBI infield single, helping to send Hanshin to a defeat in the season opener.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Marines 4, Hawks 1

At Chiba Marine Stadium, submarine hurler Shunsuke Watanabe tossed a six-hitter and Takeshi Aono hit a two-run home run as Chiba Lotte beat Fukuoka Softbank on Friday.

Fighters 2, Lions 2 (12)

At Sapporo Dome, Yohei Kaneko and Hichori Morimoto each drove in a run in the bottom of the ninth to force the game into extra innings as Hokkaido Nippon Ham ended in a tie with Seibu after 12 innings.

Fighters right-hander Yu Darvish gave up two runs, one unearned, on seven hits while fanning 14 batters in nine innings, while Lions rookie Takayuki Kishi held off Nippon Ham with seven strikeouts over seven shutout innings.